Gavin Brown’s Enterprise presents Jacolby Satterwhite’s Blessed Avenue, the artist’s first solo show with the gallery.
The exhibition includes a 30-minute digital video, a concept album, and a retail installation offering accessibly-priced editions. This suite of new works also features collaborations with an array of practitioners from the worlds of art, music, poetry, pornography, and fashion.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is the video Blessed Avenue, a digital projection of hallucinatory visual complexity. Continuing a practice Satterwhite has developed over several years, the video is laboriously rendered in the animation software Maya, and includes green-screened performances by the artist and other nocturnal misfits. Like an erotic nightmare from the digital imaginary, the video plunges through warped dreamscapes populated by fornicating leather queens and monstrous, naked, tattooed giants. Satterwhite’s otherworld is one of torqued perspective and twisted physics, dazzling in both color and detail. Although too oneiric for any orderly narrative, the piece loosely follows a conveyor belt of sorts as it glides through a series of impossible architectures: from an abyssal atrium where figures hoverboard above a zigzag floor, to a labyrinthine freeway in the heavens, and further on to locales more miraculous still.
A dancelike sexuality pervades these spaces. Tricked out in all manner of fetish gear, performers of manifold and often indeterminate gender promenade, party, and perv out together. They move with a punctuated dynamism reminiscent of both Martha Graham and Ball Culture traditions, and are often clustered in small figural groups not unlike the little souls in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. But these earthly delights come at a cost: even as some express mirth and even pleasure, each figure is bound to a vast and terrifying machine. What might first appear as a libertine paradise turns out in fact to be an infernal factory, where the repetitive motion of sex and dance power an apparatus of Brobdingnagian proportions. Visceral and excremental violence ensues, as the contraption exploits the body’s very functionality, transforming the natural into the industrial, the corporeal into the mechanical. Any sense of individuality is critically undermined—not only in the diffusion of subjectivity typical of orgy scenes generally, but also in the multiplicative iteration of the figures themselves. Like the de-skilled workers at an assembly line, the performers here are so fungible that they become virtually indistinguishable. Satterwhite describes his use of green-screened bodies, not least his own, in overtly instrumental language suitable for an era of technological and identitarian crisis: “I use the bodies like a font,” he says.
The video itself takes its name from a song by the artist’s late mother Patricia Satterwhite (1950-2016), a prolific artist in her own right. In fact, much of this exhibition is conceived as an homage to the elder artist, articulated through sound, sight, and mercantile exchange. The video’s haunting score is derived from Ms. Satterwhite’s original a capella compositions from the 1990s. Although Patricia’s only accompaniment was the spare rhythm of a hand on thigh or tabletop, her son has remixed these vocals into a lush electronic album in collaboration with Nick Weiss of Teengirl Fantasy. His mother’s voice still bears the hiss of the K-Mart tapes on which they were first recorded, but is now ensconced in an embryonic sonic environment—African-American folksong embedded in an aqueous acid house (think Paradise Garage underwater). The filial tribute does not end there, however. The video’s visual armature owes its looping tubular filigree to Patricia’s drawings, which number around 10,000 in total. Both symptom and palliative for her mental illness, these diagrammatic works on paper pair textual inscriptions with inventions intended for sale on home shopping networks. Some products are familiar (“music speakers”); many court the fantastical (“a cake runway,” “a cock’s house”); others evoke wonder or even dread (“an extra large tray for a body”). In Mr. Satterwhite’s videos, his mother’s linear lattices—lovingly traced into Maya—fluoresce into three-dimensional constructions.
At GBE, Patricia’s QVC aspirations take on even more concrete form. In an alcove beyond the giant screen, the younger Satterwhite has installed a small shop, where bespoke editions inspired by the works of both mother and son will be available for purchase. Satterwhite collaborated with fashion archivist David Casavant to design the merchandise, which is as obtuse and elegant as the drawings on which it is based. Eschewing sentimentality, this posthumous kiosk tempers eulogy with trauma. It leverages a son’s cultural capital to drive the economic circuits from which his parent was systematically excluded. The store is named simply “Pat’s.”
The overall effect of the exhibition is as joyous as it is disquieting. An artist dances virtuosically in a feculent nightclub bathroom. A mother sings sweetly as mechanical drills sodomize headless bodies. Absurdist retail fêtes the life of a loved one. Whether heaven and hell, pleasure and pain, tenderness and brutality, self and other, or genesis and apocalypse, Satterwhite’s work deploys dialectical opposites in fresh and polymorphous suspension. Unflinching, maximalist, and exuberant, Blessed Avenue achieves a complexity sufficient to explode the very aporias it articulates.
– Jack McGrath
Jacolby Satterwhite was born in 1986 in Columbia, South Carolina. Recent exhibitions and projects include those at the Berlin Biennale 9, Berlin; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; White Chapel, London; Dallas Art Museum, Dallas; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle; Moran Moran Gallery, Los Angeles; MOCA, Los Angeles; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Stefan Lundgren Gallery, Mallorca; Monya Rowe Gallery, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; the Bronx Museum, New York; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. In 2014, Satterwhite’s series Reifying Desire was featured in the Whitney Biennial and his work is included in various public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Seattle Art Museum. Other upcoming projects include a performance at the Rubins Museum in New York, participation in I Was Raised on the Internet curated by Omar Kholeif at MCA Chicago and a residency and solo exhibition at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. Satterwhite lives and works in New York.